Sunday, March 4, 2018

Everything's negotiable

I am a dying breed, one of those people who still subscribes to a daily newspaper, which is delivered to my house each day.

It is part of my heritage. My parents faithfully read the newspapers each day, one state and one local, and if either was not delivered on time, my dad was on the phone with the circulation desk. They worked the Jumble each day and my mother worked the crossword and cryptoquote. They read the comics.

It's weird, but I feel a strange connection with them through the daily newspaper, even though I live in a different town than the one in which I grew up, and take a different paper. But I feel like I'm carrying on an important practice or tradition. I think it also has something to do with studying journalism in college and learning the newspaper business before computers were everywhere.

As everyone knows, the digital age has drastically changed print media and today's print newspaper is drastically different from the ones of a generation ago. That's because news is constantly available online and it's no longer necessary to read news in print.

This is not the first time newspapers have had to adapt to changing times. When radio, and then TV, became prevalent, it was predicted newspapers would become obsolete.

But as you know, newspapers survived and co-existed with the broadcast mediums and to an extent, they complemented d each other. People still wanted the newspaper for the in-depth news and even the aforementioned puzzles and comics.

The computer age has presented a much greater challenge and the only way newspapers are surviving is to have an online presence. Smaller papers across the country have either gone out of business or sold out to the big media companies that have the resources to stay current. Fewer and fewer people have a newspaper delivered their home as I do. And once my generation dies out, I really doubt there will still be daily print papers anymore.

For me, as long as there is a newspaper in print available, I intend to subscribe. Well, that is, if they don't go up in price so much that I can no longer justify the expenditure. Because really, I can get my news online too. My continuing to subscribe has as much to with principle and sentiment as anything else.

That brings me to a recent letter I received which marked the closest I have ever come to becoming a non-newspaper subscriber.

Our local paper is owned by Gannett, the huge media company that owns USA Today and papers across the country. I really don't care for the way they handle news and the way they mass- produce it, but I get it. They are a business and they have to achieve financial goals.

They now own the three largest papers in Tennessee -- The Commercial Appeal in Memphis (which until a couple of years ago was a Scripps Howard publication), The Knoxville News Sentinel and The Tennessean here in Nashville.

By acquiring these three papers, they achieved a certain amount of synergies and efficiencies and, again, I get it. But it has contributed to even more "canned news" which makes these papers have more and more uniform characteristics of USA Today.

I only have to go back to Little Rock, where I used to live, and read a copy of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to realize the stark difference between a corporately owned paper and a locally owned one. I'll even occasionally go online and read the El Dorado (Arkansas) New Times, my local paper from my growing-up years. There's no comparison.

But now the Gannett publication is the only daily local print newspaper available to me, and I have remained a faithful subscriber.

Back to that letter I received. The writer of same thanked me for being a subscriber, and went on to tell me about an increase in the cost. (They needed my help, he told me). My daily subscription, with full access to print and digital, would go from 53 to 77 dollars  per month. That is bad enough, but I might add that only last August, the cost went up to 53 dollars from 36 dollars.

So over the course of less than a year, the subscription cost more than doubled. I decided I had helped them enough.

And I told Wife that was it. I could no longer justify paying that much for something that has only gotten smaller (in volume and content). I was very sad about this, but enough is enough.

Wife assured me she would be willing for us to continue, knowing how important it is to me. But I told her no, it was time to end it.

So I made the call. A nice guy named Richard answered and I told him, due to the sharp increase in price, I would have to cancel my subscription. I told him a little bit of my story and I admit to laying it on a bit thick.

"Richard," I said, "y'all have priced me out of this."

Richard allowed as to how he would sure hate to lose me as a subscriber after 20 years and I allowed as to how it was breaking my heart too.

He told me to hold on and he would look at some things and see what he might be able to do for me. He even made a bit of small talk as he was looking at whatever it was he was looking at. I had already decided, if they would keep the cost the same, I would keep my subscription.

After a few minutes, he said, "What would you think of 28 dollars a month?"

In as deadpan a voice as I could manage, I told him yes, I thought that would be fine and I could do that. (Remember now, this is LESS than what I was paying when the price increased last August). I told him I would have to have an email confirming this.

The email came and although Richard was unable to promise me the length of time this price would be effective, the first automatic draft just went through and it was about three bucks less than the quoted price!

So for now, I remain a subscriber. If they unreasonably jack up the price again, I plan to call and whine and threaten to cancel again.

Wife was so impressed she said she might let me call the cable and phone company. I told her I'm not that good.

But it just goes to show just about everything is negotiable. My man Richard came through for me.


Ed said...

I'm a little bit more optimistic about the future of newspapers. I do agree that the state wide or regional newspapers will probably not outlive our generation. However I do thing that the city wide newspapers that focus on only city-wide news will remain for the time being.

I gave up my state paper subscription years ago. Mostly it had to do with a newspaper delivery person who couldn't differentiate my sidewalk from my roof and that was only during the roughly 60% of the time it actually got delivered. But even back then, it held very little news that I couldn't easily access by just watching the five o'clock news or reading just one website.

The local newspaper is different. In order to get all the information from it that I read daily, I would have to visit dozens of websites if not more. The same news is generally found out "there" somewhere but it can be difficult to locate, more so than just picking up the newspaper in the morning off my sidewalk.

Bob said...

Good point, Ed, had you could be right, but even the local publication I write for is completely digital. There is apparently a trend or movement toward “hyper local” news sites and I believe these will eventually replace the local dailies (because they’re not going to be able to afford print costs). But I hope you’re right and I’m not.

Ed said...

Even our local paper is following the trend to go completely digital. But I suspect that there still is a viable business model for them to do so where as it doesn't work the same for state wide newspapers that have to appeal to a much wider audience.

Kelly said...

Hey, hey... that squeaky wheel got the grease! :)

We are still print newspaper readers around here I take the local paper and my husband gets the Democrat-Gazette. (which is the State Edition, that I've learned can vary from the LR edition) While I rarely read his, he always glances through mine. I will warn you that if you look at the online edition, it's less detailed than the digital print version. The rare times I have to resort to reading it online, I always opt for the latter so I can print out the comics and puzzles. A day is not complete if I haven't done the crossword, cryptoquote, and sudoku!!

I hope they don't dun you again in a matter of months.

Bob said...

My mother faithfully worked the Cryptoquote but would’ve never gone for the Sudoku as she was never good with numbers - and neither am I!

Pumpkin Delight (Kimberly) said...

In some respects I like that you can call (paper, cable) and reduce the rate, but on the other hand it irks me a bit that I have to. Every 6 months I have to call DISH to get another "deal" in order to keep my television reasonably priced. And if I didn't, it wouldn't be. But at least there is the opportunity to do so and that you can continue with your paper.
Our local paper has taken a slide over the last several years as far as quality and content go. They do have such tough competition with the internet. But I think those that read the paper are MUCH ore informed than those who only get their content online as that seems to be slanted some. In my opinion, the best journalism comes from our print reporters because they have the time to gather the facts (and edit mistakes). I feel like anything I read online I have to fact check a few more times to make sure it's not just hot air.

Bob said...

Couldn’t agree more Kimberly and I hope that’s one thing that will keep the newspaper alive.

Debby said...

I just wrote a column on the negotiability of satellite television. FYI, Direct TV has the same deal. Not publicized at all, but available.